Inside the Buyer’s Brain: 4 Insights from a New Study of Buyer Behavior

Any business that relies on digital marketing to reach buyers and to build and maintain its reputation can benefit from a look at how its customers determine the value of its products. Leaders are constantly looking for answers to questions like:

  • How are our buyers behaving now compared to a few years ago?
  • What are their key business challenges?
  • How do potential customers find and evaluate businesses like ours?
  • How visible is our business to our target audience?

The Hinge Research Institute has recently published the 4th edition of its pioneering study of professional services buyers and sellers called Inside the Buyer’s Brain. The survey provides many insights, some quite surprising, about the changing ways that buyers find, evaluate and select their service firms. Equally important are the ways sellers have misunderstood their buyers’ challenges and decision making.


About the research

The Hinge Research Institute has studied over 40,000 buyers and sellers through the years. Our focus on the professional services industry has given us unparalleled insight into this marketplace. Inside the Buyer’s Brain was first released in 2013, then updated in 2018 and again in 2020. The 2022 release marks the 4th edition of this pioneering study of professional services buyers and sellers. For this most recent study, we used phone interviews and online surveys conducted between 2020 and 2022 to obtain feedback from more than 1,900 buyers and over 3000 sellers in the B2B and professional services space.


While the focus of our work is on the professional services industry, it’s easy to see how some of the forces driving change in this sector can affect a variety of businesses that rely on digital marketing for business development. Here are four key insights to come out of our most recent edition of Inside the Buyer’s Brain.


Insight #1: More buyers consider the economy and technology issues among their most significant challenges.

The number of buyers we surveyed who listed “dealing with a difficult economy” among their top challenges increased by 54% in just two years. This issue was the fifth biggest concern in 2020. This year it was second on the list, almost in a dead heat with the repeat #1 concern, “finding/keeping good people.”


Another concern that cracked the top 5 this year with a 136% jump from just two years ago was “technology/data issues.” Our advice to professional services firms: Packaging your products or providing terms for your buyers that help them weather the current economic uncertainty can build and strengthen relationships. If your products involve data management or technology, your ability to support those products after the sale is critical to keeping your customers satisfied.


Insight #2: More buyers today rely on existing relationships when evaluating businesses, and their willingness to recommend a trusted provider has never been higher.

Businesses that help customers meet the challenges of insight #1 above stand to benefit more than ever from client satisfaction. The survey showed that, for the first time, an existing relationship was among the top 5 criteria that professional services buyers used to evaluate their providers. The percentage of respondents who identified this factor jumped by almost 80%.


This comes at a time when clients responded that they are more likely than ever to recommend their current service provider. After a decline in recommendations during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, positive responses in this area surged to 74.8% in 2022. The data suggest that helping existing clients meet their top business challenges should be as significant a component of business development as more traditional pursuits of new customers.


Insight #3: Seller visibility has dropped significantly, and social media is not driving customer behavior like it has in the past.

The number of clients who rated their professional services provider as “highly visible” in the marketplace dropped by 37% between 2020 and 2022. This could be a function of fewer in-person events during the pandemic, but it points up the importance of showcasing the value of a firm’s services in as many channels as possible, such as websites, articles and blogs, speaking events, webinars, and books. Of the social media channels buyers used at work, only LinkedIn showed increased usage. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube were all distant followers in 2020, and they lost ground when the results were tallied in 2022.


Insight #4: Poor customer experience is a growing concern.

When asked their top 5 concerns when selecting a professional services provider, buyers were increasingly concerned about a poor customer experience, which jumped 86% between 2020 and 2022. We also saw a significant rise in those citing inexperienced and incompetent staff as a concern.  Businesses that aren’t conducting regular client satisfaction surveys throughout the year run the risk of incurring damage to their reputation without even knowing it.


Key takeaways

This new edition of our study provided a lot of valuable information for professional services firms of all stripes—including great insights for any business that relies on digital marketing. Some of the most relevant include:

  • Help your customers address their concerns about the economy and technology.
  • Existing relationships matter more than ever.
  • Talent acquisition and retention are still major issues.
  • Businesses use social media less today to find and evaluate professional services firms.

To learn more about this survey, please contact us.